More to risk than market volatility

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Ongoing concerns by investors about market volatility may mean they are ignoring other critical investment risks which can have a major impact on their retirement income, says Mr Cameron Dickman, head of retail at Australian Unity Investments.

“The global financial crisis has focused investor attention on one kind of risk, market risk – the risk associated with market volatility – and whether we are still in a bear market.

“As a result, investors have made avoiding or minimising this risk their priority, resulting in them keeping most, if not all, their money in cash, rather than focusing on their ultimate goal which is a retirement income that will last.

“Even now, when volatility has largely returned to pre-GFC levels, many investors are still keeping a significant proportion of their retirement savings in cash options such as term deposits, in the belief that this is the least-risky strategy.

“However, while this approach minimises market risk, it exposes investors to a number of other risks including inflation risk, income risk and opportunity risk,” Mr Dickman says.

He said that inflation risk, which is when higher levels of inflation eat away at returns and capital, is a major issue for those who have money in term deposits.

“As the interest rates offered on term deposits fall – as they are already starting to do – the return on the capital will also decrease.

“Inflation also means that capital locked up in a non-growth asset will have less value at the end of its two, three or five year term.

“Opportunity risk is associated with this. If the money is locked away in a term deposit for two, three or five years, it is money that can’t be used elsewhere – therefore opportunities for better returns and capital growth are being missed,” he said.

Mr Dickman added that perhaps the biggest risk for investors at the moment is income risk.

“Investors who took their money out of other investments to put into cash when the government introduced the bank guarantee have most likely sacrificed income.

“Term deposits may seem a safe haven now, but people probably don’t realise that this choice means they have introduced future income risk into their portfolio.

“With the first of the baby-boomer generation now entering retirement, as well as the trend of longer life expectancy, a stable, regular income will become a priority. This is something people won’t get from a term deposit where the interest is usually paid at the end of the term.

“Indeed, the burgeoning ageing population, combined with the higher health costs associated with people living longer, makes it even more important for Australians to be adequately prepared to fund their retirement.  A potential risk in its own right is relying on future governments to pick up the tab for those who run out of money.

“Therefore retirees in particular need to consider other investments, and find a balance between their desire for low-risk investments and their need for returns that will generate ongoing income in their retirement.

“It comes back to the value of taking a balanced approach through a diversified portfolio, and understanding that different investments offer different benefits, returns and risks.

“No single investment will provide investors with all three elements of high liquidity, high returns and low risk, so a combination is needed.

“Diversity also helps to manage all types of risk.

“Investors must assess each individual asset class on its own merits and make investment choices based on their own needs of income, liquidity, growth and risk,” Mr Dickman said.

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